For those that don’t know, or maybe just haven’t thought about it, most brands in the gambling industry use affiliates to help them acquire customers. Affiliates exist in almost all industries and even pre-date the internet. They offer a legitimate means by which companies can onboard new customers in a crowded market place.
There are a lot of affiliates in gambling in all verticals; casino, sports, poker, bingo, lottery, etc., and there are a lot of brands that want affiliates to send them traffic and accounts. It can be difficult for affiliates to keep track of the accounts they send to various programs, especially those that work with many brands. This is where B2B affiliate software comes in, it offers a means to help keep track of data across various platforms in one place.
This side of the industry isn’t showcased very often, indeed a lot of people are not even aware it happens. Therefore, we set out to interview someone who could shed some light on how these things work.
Kindly, John Wright, co-founder of StatsDrone – a leading affiliate program stats tracking software – agreed to an interview with us. John started off as a player, became an affiliate, has been an affiliate manager and now runs b2b affiliate stats tracking software to help other affiliates.
Join us as we chat with John to help you understand how affiliate marketing works, how data is tracked and whether being an affiliate is a worthwhile career.
Hi John, can you give us a bit of background about yourself?
My career in iGaming and affiliate marketing wasn’t an intentional one. I went to school for engineering with a focus on robotics and AI. Who knew it would take 20+ years before everyone would all be into AI. I had a highschool friend that was getting into professional gambling. He was trying to recruit me for his card counting team and travel to the US to play. I thought this idea was beyond ridiculous.
Two years had passed and his stories only got bigger and weirder. One day he showed me a cheque he got in the mail from playing online casinos. This story just got even dumber for me and I tuned it out. I changed my mind when he said he bought a BMW M3 Roadster so I went to visit him and see what was new. Turns out online casino bonus hunting was a thing and it worked.
I did this for 5 years which enabled me to travel the world and I got exposed to affiliate marketing and the iGaming industry. This will be a short summary of the story but it lead me to working on the industry side as a player and affiliate manager managing a few white-label casinos. I was able to see how much affiliates were making and how little capital it required in getting started. From 2010 I started building and growing affiliate sites.
Throughout these years, I didn’t really have great joy in doing any of these tasks. They were all work and perhaps affiliate marketing required the most creativity but I felt it was the same job day in day out. Build a site, design it, maybe make a custom program, create content, build links, manage your accounts, etc… When I started to see the problems affiliates had, that is pain points for affiliates, this lead me towards starting my own software company with a business partner. Creating software is going back to my engineering roots and where I have more fun doing the work I do today.
You started out as a player; how did that go for you?
It went well but it was extremely nerve-wracking. Any type of pro gambling you do, you need to learn to separate your emotions from the outcome. That includes winning and losing. I started off playing $2 per hand playing blackjack when casinos would allow you to play a signup bonus on most games except roulette.
My first time playing I deposited $100, got a $50 bonus and cashed out $36 and that took me about an hour. I did all of this investing $500 I had on my credit card which I was nearly at my limit.
My thought process is, if I lose my $500, it is a fraction of my university debt and I’ll just get a job since I have an engineering degree. It simply worked and I was able to play for many years increasing my hourly rate along the way.
How did you get into working in the iGaming industry?
When you do bonus hunting, you see everything. New casinos, ones that close, every type of bonus you can imagine. You see how players are treated, you discover affiliate sites, then you learn about the affiliate programs. If casinos could afford to pay me as a player making money from them, there must be more money on the other side. And there was.
You have worked as an affiliate and an affiliate manager, many of our users won’t know much about what affiliates are, can you explain what an affiliate and affiliate manager is?
Just search for any gambling keywords in Google and about 80% of the results will likely be from an affiliate site. Take a brand like 888 and search for ‘888 casino review’ and you will find probably over 1000 affiliate sites.
Affiliates make money when players click on links and make a sale. This is really the core element of affiliate marketing which globally is worth around $20B per year. The stats on the market cap of affiliate marketing will vary but simply put, it is a massive industry.
An affiliate manager is a unique job. You need to find affiliates to promote your brands where they earn commissions. It is purely B2B and there is simply no good training available in the typical education system. Some companies have made their own affiliate manager courses and these are really everything.
Personally, I think most of the affiliate managers working in iGaming are not properly trained and need training to do their job better.
What did you do in your role as an affiliate and an affiliate manager and what did you learn?
As an affiliate, I focused on ranking for various keywords. I mainly focused on creating casino reviews and I call these fishing nets you throw in the sea, waiting to see what you might catch.
As an affiliate manager, I just would try to find ways of getting more affiliates and ensuring that the brands I represented would get more exposure on those affiliate sites. It lead to some great networking and people I’m still friends with today.
You have also had exposure to the negative sides of gambling when you volunteered for betblocker, can you tell us about that?”
I supported Duncan Garvie from BetBlocker.org in the early days. Duncan saw first hand the effects of gambling as he processed a large number of casino complaints over 10 years. I did the design of the website and app including the recent redesigns.
There is a dark side to online gambling but this is why I’m happy to volunteer some of my time towards BetBlocker and support it publicly. I think the iGaming industry should support initiatives like this one. I mean it is a registered charity, doesn’t require any personal information for registration and is no cost so you can put on as many devices as you need.
To this day I’m still shocked at how many gambling executives I talk to that have never heard of BetBlocker. Slowly but surely this will change and it is nice to see the industry start to get behind it with donations to the charity.
How did you get into providing affiliate software and why?
Being an affiliate manager, player manager, and an affiliate has given me a unique look at the industry. I’m an engineer by trade so my mind is geared towards identifying and solving problems. As an affiliate I would experience all sorts of situations that I felt there was a necessary service needed:
- notification on programs going out of business
- notification on programs changing software thus invalidating your old tracking links
- notification on programs that have stopped paying or late on affiliate payments
- having a better understanding of data analysis for affiliates
It was a collection of these things that I think are still not properly solved today. The software we do for StatsDrone is meant to eliminate these problems.
What is it that StatsDrone does and what is unique about how you do it?
I used to use Stats Remote many years ago and I always felt there were features missing from it which are part of those pain points I mentioned previously.
Simply put, StatsDrone is helping affiliates collect and store their affiliate data to save you time. The secondary part of the app is to help you optimize your business so you know where to send more traffic and where to decrease traffic for underperforming brands.
Why do brands need to track player data?
Well, most brands whether casinos or sportsbooks they track their own data. As an affiliate, if you promoted say 200 brands, that could be 100 affiliate programs you are working with. My question to you as an affiliate would be: how much money did you make today?
To answer this, you would have to login to 100 affiliate programs one at a time to check. Our app will do this all in a matter of seconds. You can wake up and start your day knowing how well yesterday went, and hopefully it went well.
What information do brands track about players and what do they share with affiliates?
Many affiliates would argue that affiliate programs don’t share enough data. For example, affiliates might not know the country where the referred player came from. This data is very helpful for affiliates but most programs don’t have this ready to go.
Affiliates need API to make it easier to get their data and in a more secure way. I hope this will change within the next 2 years.
Why does the gambling industry need affiliates?
Most brands are very dependant on affiliates for everything. I would say it is no different than restaurants relying on sites like TripAdvisor for ratings and recommendations.
Players today have the power to voice their happiness or displeasure with any brand. This can happen on social media sites or on these gambling affiliate sites that allow user generated content.
Do you think being an affiliate is a proper job? Do you think it can be a career?
It is a proper job and career but you can’t really go to school for it. You can find many affiliate courses but I would advise against college or university if this is the path you want to take.
Most affiliates I know are college or university dropouts, maybe have no degree and the only thing they have in common is they just went out and did the job. They built their own sites and didn’t wait for a course to appear.
We’ve heard scare stories about brands fudging data, do you think this happens in reality?
Many affiliates believe this to be true. Unfortunately there isn’t anything protecting affiliates. With that said, one thing I do tell affiliates is that whether this happens or not, you should optimize your traffic to send more of it to brands that pay the most in terms of EPC.
That is, earnings per click. There are many brands that are ethical but they are not good at converting or retaining traffic. As a result, many affiliates won’t care about promoting them. Most affiliates should care about the bottom line.
You see stats and performance from a wide variety of brands and programs, what is it that makes a good operator vs a bad operator for you?
Very tough question. If I had to give a single answer, I would say it comes down to how they treat the players and the experience they give to players.
It isn’t about the website design but it comes down to the players being happy with that brand. This is the most important element.
How many affiliate programs do you work with and what are your favourite affiliate programs and why?
We sold most of our affiliate sites but we do affiliate program reviews. We also review every program we encounter so I would say we have thousands of accounts. My favourite ones are ones that consistently pay out.
We work on sub-affiliate commission so we have a few that deliver well. Since we are in the space of focusing on affiliates, I tend to avoid sharing publicly my favourite programs. I have friends at other brands and I can like them as people but not be a fan of their brand and vice versa too.
What is your favourite affiliate program software and why?
Ok this might get me into trouble. I’m going to start by saying for the work we do with StatsDrone, I care about affiliate program software that focuses on delivering good value to affiliates as well as their operators. What is important to me to provide to our users is API data, as close to real-time data as we can get, and bonuses are postbacks and dynamic variables for tracking links.
To call out a few favourites I would say Cellxpert, Intelitics, MyAffiliates and ReferOn.
Outside of iGaming there is this SaaS affiliate software called Reditus that I think are doing cool things and we are intending to use them for our affiliate program.
What data features do you think are the most important for affiliates?
It comes down to helpful affiliate managers that are fast to reply, and ones that know this business. Too many affiliate managers approach our team without taking the time to understand how we work. They all come in expecting #1 rankings and when I get this treatment, it makes me a bit angry and more assured I will likely send them the least amount of traffic.
Sadly it is rare when an affiliate manager will ask us how we can best work together or what are your best sources of traffic or conversion for a cooperative relationship.
What do you think is the future of affiliate marketing and data tracking?
Sadly in iGaming and the affiliate marketing part of it, the industry is behind. There are some of these affiliate program software companies that are helping move the industry forward.
I see the future is a mix of better data tools, business intelligence tools and some AI tools in there too.
You recently announced you are on the board of OnlineBet.com. What does that entail and tell us about the focus of that website?
I had a chance to work with the owners of the OnlineBet.com website and rather than building just another affiliate website on a great domain, I thought the industry could always use more B2B content. The theme of the site is B2B, M&A (mergers & acquisitions) as well as investing.
I enjoy working on this as I have an interest on this side of business and everything I do in iGaming is now B2B. They used to say B2B stands for boring to boring, but B2B has drawn interest from investors all over the world and nobody looks at B2B as boring anymore.
Is there anything else you would like to share about what you do and why you do it or any other insights for our readers
If anybody reading this is thinking about becoming an affiliate, the space is tough but I believe it is never too late to become an affiliate. Our job is to build tools to help affiliates get started and affiliate marketing will only continue to get bigger.